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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Lion's Share - Chapter 40. Genius At Bay
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The Lion's Share - Chapter 40. Genius At Bay Post by :Pearl Category :Long Stories Author :Arnold Bennett Date :May 2012 Read :2964

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The Lion's Share - Chapter 40. Genius At Bay

CHAPTER XL. GENIUS AT BAY

Audrey got away from the group in front of the restaurant with stammering words and crimson confusion. She ran. She stopped a taxi and stumbled into it. There remained with her vividly the vision of the startled, entirely puzzled face of Mr. Gilman, who in an instant had been transformed from a happy, dignified and excusably self-satisfied human male into an outraged rebel whose grievance had overwhelmed his dignity. She had said hurriedly: "Please excuse me not coming with you. But Tommy says something's happened to Musa, and I must go and see. It's very important." And that was all she had said. Had she asked him to drive her to Musa's, Mr. Gilman would have been very pleased to do so; but she did not think of that till it was too late. Her precipitancy had been terrible, and had staggered even Tommy. She had no idea how the group would arrange itself. And she had no very clear idea as to what was wrong with Musa or how matters stood in regard to the concert. Tommy had asserted that she did not know whether the orchestra and its conductor meant to be at their desks in the evening just as though nothing whatever had occurred at the rehearsal. All was vague, and all was disturbing. She had asked Tommy the authority for her assertion that she, Audrey, was financing the concert. To which Tommy had replied that she had "guessed, of course." And seeing that Audrey had only interviewed a concert agent once--and he a London concert agent with relations in Paris--and that she had never uttered a word about the affair to anybody except Mr. Foulger, who had been keeping an eye on the expenditure, it was not improbable that Tommy had just guessed. But she had guessed right. She was an uncanny woman. "Have you ever spoken to Musa about--it?" Audrey had passionately demanded; and Tommy had answered also passionately: "Of course not. I'm a white woman all through. Haven't you learnt that yet?"

The taxi, although it was a horse-taxi and incapable of moving at more than five miles an hour, reached the Rue Cassette, which was on the other side of the river and quite a long way off, in no time. That is to say, Audrey was not aware that any time had passed. She had received the address from Tommy, for it was a new address, Musa having admittedly risen in the world. The house was an old one; it had a curious staircase, with china knobs on the principal banisters of the rail, and crimson-tasselled bell cords at all the doors of the flats. Musa lived at the summit of it. Audrey arrived there short of breath, took the crimson-tasselled cord in her hand to pull, and then hesitated in order to think.

Why had she come? The response was clear. She had come solely because she hated to see a job botched, and there was not a moment to lose if it was not to be botched. She had come, not because she had the slightest sympathetic interest in Musa--on the contrary, she was coldly angry with him--but because she had a horror of fiascos. She had found a genius who needed financing, and she, possessing some tons of money, had financed him, and she did not mean to see an ounce of her money wasted if she could help it. Her interest in the affair was artistic and impersonal, and none other. It was the duty of wealthy magnates to foster art, and she was fostering art, and she would have the thing done neatly and completely, or she would know the reason. Fancy a rational creature making a scene at a final rehearsal and swearing that he would not play, and then bolting! It was monstrous! People really did not do such things. Assuredly no artist had ever done such a thing before. Artists who had a concert all to themselves invariably appeared according to advertised promise. An artist who was only one among several in a programme might fall ill and fail to appear, for such artists are liable to the accidents of earthly existence. But an artist who shared the programme with nobody else was above the accidents of earthly existence and magically protected against colds, coughs, influenza, orange peel, automobiles, and all the other enemies of mankind. But, of course, Musa was peculiar, erratic and unpredictable beyond even the wide range granted by society to genius. And yet of late he had been behaving himself in a marvellous manner. He had never bothered her. On the voyage back to France he had not bothered her. They had separated with punctilious cordiality. Neither of them had written to the other, but she knew that he was working diligently and satisfactorily. He was apparently cured of her. It was perhaps due to the seeming completeness of his cure that her relations with Mr. Gilman had been what they were. ... And now, suddenly, this!

So with clear conscience she pulled the bell cord.

Musa himself opened the door. He was coatless and in a dressing-gown, under which showed glimpses of a new smartness. As soon as he saw her he went very pale.

"_Bon jour_," she said.

He repeated the phrase stiffly.

"Can I come in?" she asked.

He silently signified, with a certain annoying resignation, that she might. For one instant she was under a tremendous impulse to walk grandly and haughtily down the stairs. But she conquered the impulse. He was so pale.

"This way, excuse me," he said, and preceded her along a short, narrow passage which ended in an open door leading into a small room. There was no carpet on the floor of the passage, and only a quite inadequate rug on the floor of the room. The furniture was scanty and poor. There was a table, a music stand, a cheap imitation of a Louis Quatorze chair, two other chairs, and some piles of music. No curtains to the window! Not a picture on the walls! On the table a dusty disorder of small objects, including ash-trays, and towards the back of it a little account book, open, with a pencil on it and a low pile of coppers and a silver ten-sou piece on the top of the coppers. Nevertheless this interior represented a novel luxuriousness for Musa; for previously, as Audrey knew, he had lived in one room, and there was no bed here. The flat, indeed, actually comprised three rooms. The account book and the pitiful heap of coins touched her. She had expended much on the enterprise of launching him to glory, and those coins seemed to be all that had filtered through to him. The whole dwelling was pathetic, and she thought of the splendours of her own daily life, of the absolute unimportance to her of such sums as would keep Musa in content for a year or for ten years, and of the grandiose, majestic, dazzling career of herself and Mr. Gilman when their respective fortunes should be joined together. And she mysteriously saw Mr. Gilman's face again, and that too was pathetic. Everything was pathetic. She alone seemed to be hard, dominating, overbearing. Her conscience waked to fresh activity. Was she losing her soul? Where were her ideals? Could she really work in full honesty for the feminist cause as the wife of a man like Mr. Gilman? He was adorable: she felt in that moment that she had a genuine affection for him; but could Mrs. Gilman challenge the police, retort audaciously upon magistrates, and lie in prison? In a word, could she be a martyr? Would Mr. Gilman, with all his amenability, consent? Would she herself consent? Would it not be ridiculous? Thus her flying, shamed thoughts in front of the waiting Musa!

"Then you aren't ill?" she began.

"Ill!" he exclaimed. "Why do you wish that I should be ill?"

As he answered her he removed his open fiddle case, with the violin inside it, from the Louis Quatorze chair, and signed to her to sit down. She sat down.

"I heard that--this morning--at the rehearsal----"

"Ah! You have heard that?"

"And I thought perhaps you were ill. So I came to see."

"What have you heard?"

"Frankly, Musa, it is said that you said you would not play to-night."

"Does it concern you?"

"It concerns everyone.... And you have been so good lately."

"Ah! I have been good lately. You have heard that. And did you expect me to continue to be good when you returned to Paris and passed all your days in public with that antique and grotesque Monsieur Gilman? All the world sees you. I myself have seen you. It is horrible."

She controlled herself. And the fact that she was intensely flattered helped her to do so.

"Now Musa," she said, firmly and kindly, as on previous occasions she had spoken to him. "Do be reasonable. I refuse to be angry, and it is impossible for you to insult me, however much you try. But do be reasonable. Do think of the future. We are all wishing for your success. We shall all be there. And now you say you aren't going to play. It is really too much."

"You have perhaps bought tickets," said Musa, and a flush gradually spread over his cheeks. "You have perhaps bought tickets, and you are afraid lest you have been robbed. Tranquillise yourself, Madame. If you have the least fear, I will instruct my agent to reimburse you. And why should I not play? Naturally I shall play. Accept my word, if you can." He spoke with an icy and convincing decision.

"Oh, I'm so glad!" Audrey murmured.

"What right have you to be glad, Madame? If you are glad it is your own affair. Have I troubled you since we last met? I need the sympathy of nobody. I am assured of a large audience. My impresario is excessively optimistic. And if this is so, I owe it to none but myself. You speak of insults. Permit me to say that I regard your patronage as an insult. I have done nothing, I imagine, to deserve it. I crack my head to divine what I have done to deserve it. You hear some silly talk about a rehearsal and you precipitate yourself _chez moi_--"

Without a word Audrey rose and departed. He followed her to the door and held it open.

"_Bon jour_, Madame."

She descended the stairs. Perhaps it was his sudden illogical change of tone; perhaps it was the memory of his phrase, "assured of a large audience," coupled with a picture of the sinister Mr. Cowl unsuccessfully trying to give away tickets--but whatever was the origin of the sob, she did give a sob. As she walked downcast through the courtyard she heard clearly the sounds of Musa's violin, played with savage vigour.

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